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Views of distant hills were a defining moment for award-winning textile designer Lucy Polson. These days she’s a 22-year-old graduate of Massey University’s College of Creative Arts, but in 2017 Lucy was on a tour of India on a Prime Minister’s scholarship. With sustainability at the forefront of her mind, Lucy was overwhelmed with incredulous horror as she drew closer to the hills and saw them for what they really were – massive mountains of global trash gathered from across the world and dumped on India.

Working in an industry notorious for waste and pollution, the young designer from Geraldine was inspired to do her bit for sustainability within the textile industry. As Lucy says, ‘It’s scary. I think the way the world is going is sad and my generation has a lot to clean up.’ However, even Lucy couldn’t have predicted she would win an international textile design award in the process. Representing New Zealand and Australia, following Australasian success, Lucy went on to claim the esteemed Veronica Bell Trophy at the 2018 Society of Dyers and Colourists International Design Competition in London, beating out international competition from 13 other finalists from across the world.

In a competition that challenges understanding of colour and sustainability within the textile design supply chain, Lucy was up against the best the world has to offer, a broad range of up-and-coming textile, fashion and business designers tasked with communicating a commercial colour palette to the world. The mind boggles as to how to go about this and even Lucy admits the brief took some time to interpret. ‘They gave us an atlas of colour called the Archroma Colour Atlas. We were to create a colour palette and use it to celebrate the fact we could send a colour code over the world and get it produced.’

At some stage, most New Zealanders have been to their local paint shop and picked out fandecks of colour, a confined example of a chemical colour atlas. Selecting colours that she liked from the competition atlas, Lucy went on to explore natural methods of dying textiles and eventually produced her own naturally dyed edition to complement the chemical atlas. While Lucy’s palette has been produced using onion skin, cochineal and indigo plant, a seemingly fluid approach reminiscent of tie-dyed clothing and hippie culture, hers is an exact and scientific method. ‘It’s sustainable because you can repeat and make the same colour using exact measurements with no additional testing to match swatches. You follow the recipe and repeat the natural dye.’ With Lucy’s ecological version of the chemical colour atlas, there is an option in the future for a natural edition. The colour is exact and there is no test wastage.

Showcasing her natural dyes, Lucy produced inspiration boards and an exquisite silk dress of muddied olives, earthy mustards, soft blues and pops of pretty pink, hand-painted incorporating traditional Batik wax methods that combine graphic design and art. Ironically, Lucy didn’t like graphics

at Geraldine High School. Instead, her passion lay with art and she credits her art teacher, Rebecca Thomson, as ‘the best facilitator for my love of art and printmaking – the core part of textile design’. Indeed, it was Rebecca and Lucy’s mother, Linda, who convinced Lucy to apply for the Wellington-based Massey University College of Creative Arts, from which she recently graduated with a Bachelor of Design majoring in Textiles with First Class Honours.

However, Lucy’s flair and talent was almost lost to the textile world before it even began, but a fortuitous gap year on completing school gave her time to assess her options. Thinking she couldn’t make a career out of art and printmaking, Lucy was destined to study architecture until ‘Mum and Miss Thomson convinced me to apply for Massey’. Overseas at the time, it was her mother and her art teacher who put together Lucy’s portfolio and her application. They laugh about it now but at the time Linda was cringing as she chopped up Lucy’s school art portfolio and stuffed it into a folder as part of the submission to prove design process and ability.

Looking back to her time at school, Lucy wishes she’d had the courage to take the subjects she loved most instead of focusing on subjects she thought would lead to a career. ‘I wish I’d taken sewing in Year 13,’ she laments, ‘I wish I’d taken more creative papers. I did physics, calculus, statistics, graphics and art.’ These days, Lucy’s advice to young people is ‘You should love it. If you really love art, there’s going to be a way to make a career. Design is so important for future innovation and creative minds are wired differently.’

While Lucy’s creative career path has already taken her to India and to London for the Veronica Bell Trophy award ceremony, it has also landed her a summer internship with Maggie Marilyn, a sustainable New Zealand fashion brand, and one that Lucy finds inspirational. Not only did Vogue magazine pick up on the New Zealand designer, turning Maggie Marilyn into an instant international name, but

Meghan Markle has also been photographed wearing the brand. Lucy says of the youthful Maggie Marilyn Hewitt, ‘She’s a trailblazer in the New Zealand industry in terms of sustainability.’ It’s brands like Maggie Marilyn, Patagonia and Lululemon that Lucy is motivated by. ‘Their core values lie in sustainability and innovation. They’re making a really good product. I don’t want to contribute to waste and fast fashion.’

These days, Lucy is freelancing out of Wellington as a surface pattern designer through her website It’s here that one can view Lucy’s Graduate Collection, a play on the concept of make-believe. It’s an immersive collection digitally printed on neoprene to resemble flat paper dolls that Lucy says ‘facilitates colour and pattern to help adults tap back into a make-believe headspace’. Remarkably, Lucy’s international award-winning design didn’t contribute towards her graduate collection. Instead, the international gong was additional workload for Lucy, created for a university paper called ‘Sustainable Colouration’.

Coming home to Geraldine gives Lucy a chance to relax and reflect. A keen cook who is passionate about fitness and nutrition, it’s a chance for her to catch up with family and friends. ‘I haven’t finished achieving yet but I love coming home. It makes you humble. It makes me happy that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you can achieve great things.’

WORDS Pip Goldsbury IMAGES Emmily Harmer